“Your time is limited, do not waste it living someone else’s life.”
Words of wisdom from a wistful and moving speech by the late Steve Jobs. I can’t think of anything more frightening than living someone’s life. It happens to a lot for healthy, hard-working people in their restless attempt to tame the finite nature of time. It’s when they try to do that through a time-blocking method.
So what is time blocking?
Time blocking is a personal time planning technique that aims to maximize focus and minimize distraction while working on tasks. It is executed through proactively dedicating (blocking out) times of the day to do specific things.
- It’s personal time. It’s not for teams but rather for an individual who wants to work on and achieve their own tasks.
- It’s intended for enhanced focusing, not productivity or efficiency of planning.
- It’s proactively done, so it’s used for predicted and required events or tasks.
If you have a hard time focusing on doing daily tasks due to:
- Bad habits of excessively checking your social media, emails, news.
- Others who feel it’s acceptable to barge in without proper arrangement.
- Distracting environments.
- Daydreaming or overplanning.
Time Blocking can help you overcome these bad habits and may even help you realize the root cause behind it. After all, the essence of successful time blocking is mindset.
- You focus on doing the planned task and nothing else in that time-block. There are no phone calls, no meetings, no chats. Your only exceptions are an ambulance or a firetruck.
- You’ll stop working on that task by the end of that time block and move on to the next time block.
Yet what I continue to see – whether in defining time blocking or in applying it – is a series of misunderstandings that leads to a series of unfortunate events.
- Describing it as a “planning method”. Although a time block includes tasks and time, it doesn’t replace a plan – it does not reflect the relationship between tasks or how they affect goals. On the contrary, it reinforces a silo style for the task and the performer.
- Promoting it for productivity boosting. Sure,if you focus on your tasks, you’ll finish them in a better time, but that doesn’t solve some of the more common reasons for low productivity like miscommunication, not seeing the bigger picture, excessive meetings or lack of necessary skills.
- Describing it loosely (by coaches, managers, mentors) without a proper diagnosis of the job nature, environment dynamics, personality or the very issue someone is trying to solve.
- Failing to recognize that time blocking is demanding: it requires continuous planning and reflecting on a daily and weekly basis. It is notorious for stressing those who try to follow it too rigidly.
People – and businesses – who invest in time blocking to solve anything else but distractions without considering job dynamics or personal traits and preferences, while hoping it will boost productivity, are actively trying to live the life of an imaginary someone and are blocking nothing but their own life.
Is Time Blocking All Bad?
No, it’s not. If you are trying time blocking to overcome bad habits, procrastination and lack of focus, then congratulations. You are following a technique that can help you boost your commitment and help you become more proactive and in control of your time.
There are plenty of materials, templates and advice online to successfully conduct time blocking. If you’ve tried it (or used similar approaches like Pomodoro) but didn’t to see any results, then try doing it again with the following in mind:
- Start slow. Block short amount of time for one routine activity every week. Once you have created the habit, you can block more times for other commitments.
- Prioritize your recurring activities and block your time for the important and urgent ones first.
- Block time around your energy and mood. Know your most – and least – productive times throughout the day and allocate your activities accordingly.
- Stretch yourself. Dedicate time for fun, socializing and chilling. Allow buffer time between time blocks and avoid the temptation of back-to-back blocks.
- Set yourself up for success. Use planning tools, turn off social media alerts and avoid any known sources of distraction while you work. As a general rule, you want to make slipping back into bad habits harder and adapting to good ones easier.
- Share your time blocking. Let your roommates, colleagues or family know about your blocked time and what you are trying to achieve. Chances are they’ll follow your steps and create some time blocks for themselves.
- Keep track. If you dedicated a time and continuously failed to commit, check for a recurring distraction. Is it your mood, a busy time, crowded location or someone else? Once you find it, eliminate it or change the time block.
- Complete hard or unpleasant tasks first. If time blocking is, for the most part, working for you but you find yourself still missing deadlines or task completions, tackle the tough projects first so they’re out of the way.
- Catching up with lighter, more simpler commitments is more likely to happen.
- It feels better to end your day with an easier or more pleasant task rather than a postponed complex one.
- It is more rewarding to complete the hardest obligations, which keeps you motivated to finish.
The final word: time blocking is a great tool when used moderately and for the right reasons.